You may want to sit down. We have some very upsetting news. My Chemical Romance are dead. And so is their friend ‘The Patient’. There was nothing that anybody could do.
Confused? Readers, the confusion hasn’t even started. ‘The Black Parade’ is an ostentatious concept-album-cum-rock-opera about death, and it’s about to turn the late MCR into the biggest band on the planet. The most obvious reference point is Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, not just because both projects share a record label, producer, video director and an A&R department, but because it’s a piece of work that will challenge every preconception you ever had about the people who made it.
To recap, My Chemical Romance’s previous two albums have been one long horror story; ‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love’ and ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’ tells the story of two criminal ‘demolition lovers’ who are gunned down in the desert after their hometown is overrun by vampires. Then the boy makes a deal with Satan for the lives of him and his lover Helena in exchange for the souls of a thousand evil men. ‘A meditation,’ says Gerard Way, ‘on immortality. And this [new album] is a meditation on mortality.’
‘The Black Parade’ unfolds in the physical realm; with no eternal zombie afterlife to cushion things when the day comes. Our story begins in the cancer ward (nice), with the tragic, young death of our protagonist, an average Joe known simply as The Patient. And so the first song (after the introduction, called ‘The End’) is called ‘Dead!’ the pre-title sequence, if you will. And straightaway, we’re on brave new ground musically as well ‘a crisp, vast, and fiercely melodic kind of stadium punk that is barely emo in the slightest. Actually, its closest parallel is ‘Holiday’ from ‘American Idiot’. But by getting that out of the way first, they then divert from their Green Day mentors, blasting into power-duo tracks ‘This Is How I Disappear’ and ‘The Sharpest Lives’, both showing off this band’s new richness of depth and texture in glorious 3D-technicolour. As The Patient enters the tunnel of light we hit critical mass with ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ and things begin to unfold. Gerard apparently believes that when the reaper comes, it comes in the form of your life’s most vivid memory. Now, the point is that The Patient died before he got the chance to really achieve anything, so his most vivid memory is as a child, when his father took him to the city to see a marching band. And the rest of the album soundtracks The Patient’s life flashing before his eyes, and it turns out to be a lot more colourful and varied a flashback than he was expecting. And this is where ‘The Black Parade’s genius reveals itself. MCR have moved so far from the emo sound you know, that they’ve even renamed their band for this album. Under their new guise of The Black Parade, the group have the freedom to adopt whatever clothes, styles or ideas are necessary to tell each chapter. If there is an overarching style it is of all things musical theatre.
The first truly staggering moment is ‘I Don’t Love You’ (this album’s ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’), which sounds like Keane would if they had any edge and loads of big rock guitars. ‘House Of Wolves’, debuted at Reading, is the least startling, mainly because it pre-empts ‘Cancer’, the song most likely to get the newspapers’ backs up. A short bridging sequence, it’s their first ever stab at total, pin-drop sensitivity. Just Gerard and a piano, it’s a first-person account of death from cancer that packs an emotional punch so devastating and graphic that you could never call it rock’n’roll ‘ isn’t that meant to be fun? But MCR want to surpass rock’n’roll: it pushes the boundaries of taste about as far as they’ll go, but a daily listen is going to be just an effective way of making people stop smoking as the Allen Carr book. The mood then lightens with ‘Mama’, a vaudeville riot that manages to out-Gogol Bordello Gogol Bordello, made even more overwhelming thanks to Liza Minelli’s showstopping cameo as Mama herself. If things are getting a little too theatrical, then ‘Sleep’ gives us the big body-builder Tool moment and punches their heavy metal card; if only once, because next they have to reinvent Status Quo as Roxy Music on ‘Teenagers’; another amazing boxfresh MTV smash. ‘Disenchanted’ is the calm scene gearing up for a preposterous finale; which comes with ‘Famous Last Words’, where The Black Parade revert back to My Chemical Romance, stepping back into narrator mode, both moral of the story and cinematic climax to this remarkable journey, and a distillation of what they do best; an earnest, impassioned, and hard-fucking-rock anthem which sees them finally become ‘the saviour of the broken, the beaten and the damned’. It’s about making the most of every moment because after all, you never know when the parade (or whatever you’ll see), will come to you. Pure Hollywood melodrama, but if you find the climactic refrain of ‘I am not afraid to keep on living, I am not afraid to walk this world alone’ cheesy, you’re going to have given up sometime around track three anyway. For everyone else, it’s proper, er, lump-in-throat time.
There’s one little surprise left, but we laughed so hard that we won’t spoil it for you, except to say that it once and for all disproves the accusation that this band are somehow humourless, as if the album hadn’t done that anyway. ‘The Black Parade’ understands that real tragedy is inherently a bit funny, and vice versa, and it’s that fact which sees them leave the jibbering bodies of a thousand emo jessies in their wake. The truth is they left that baggage behind long ago. If there’s any parallel it’s with somebody like Billy Corgan; not just because of the eerie similarity of Gerard’s new hairdo, or even the marching band thing, but because both people have bigger imaginations than punk rock usually allows. But having been through their problems with drugs and psychosis already, MCR just seem too much of a finely-tuned juggernaut to fuck things up like the Pumpkins. This album has given them the freedom to do anything they want next, but for now this is one to file alongside ‘American Idiot’, ‘Doolittle’ and ‘Nevermind’ on your greatest US rock albums shelf. Oh yes, My Chemical Romance ‘ the moderately camp two-trick outsider’s cult you thought you knew ‘ are dead alright. Long live My Chemical Romance, the outrageously-camp, loud and righteous new kings of the world. Those bottle-chucking haters are just going to have to get used to it.